Monday 7 April 2014

Holly Park: the Barnet School with a zero rating for food hygiene - time to answer questions. Joint post.

Holly Park School, Friern Barnet

Updated Tuesday and Wednesday: see below

We all have an expectation that our children will be cared for when they are at school, and we rely on our local council to ensure their safety, with a rigorous enforcement of the regulations regarding food hygiene. 
Young children are at a higher risk from the consequences of failing to uphold the high standards expected in these areas, and the result of such failures could be devastating for pupils.

On 12 December 2013 Holly Park Primary School kitchen was inspected  by an Environmental Health Officer from Barnet Council. They gave the school a zero rating, the lowest possible, citing amongst other things:

·         Cobwebs and insects over food preparation areas;

·         Flaking paint from the ceiling;

·         Windows that do not shut, allowing in rain, leaves and insects;

·         Leaking pipe;

·         Damaged floor tiles;

·         Broken ventilation allowing pests into the kitchen;

·         No pest control contract;

·         Work surfaces and storage areas which cannot be properly cleaned;

·         Mould and condensation to the skylight and ceiling in the dry store where food is stored;

·         Kitchen staff using broken electrical sockets and extension leads because other electrical sockets were not working;

·         No evidence of a current electrical safety certificate;

·         Broken lights;

·         Broken and disused kitchen equipment which were difficult to clean behind;

·         Kitchen staff WC with holes in the walls and ceiling;

·         Leak in the kitchen floor;

·         An insecticutor  (one of those blue light machines  you see in kitchens that zap flies and insects) full of dead insects;

·         Inadequate and overflowing bins.

Having read the food hygiene inspection report at Holly Park, as well as the follow up visits report, it is clear that something has gone very badly wrong at this school, and that this matter needs to be brought to public attention

In total there were 21 contraventions of law listed with timescales for remedy ranging from immediately to 28 days. Bear in mind this inspection took place a week before the school broke up for Christmas but, as far as we are aware, parents were not informed of this situation and food continued to be served from this kitchen.

On 14 January 2014 a follow up visit was made by the Environmental Health Officer. Given that this was more than 28 days after the first visit, all of the contraventions of law should have been remedied. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and the follow up report reveals the following:

·         The walls and ceiling had not been cleaned and there were still cobwebs and insects in the kitchen;

·         The floor had only been given a temporary repair but the Environmental  Health Officer required them to monitor the leak;

·         Pests could still get in through the windows because they could not be shut – it was suggested that this was because the windows could not take the weight of the roof and had bowed out of shape.

·         The work surfaces and shelves that could not be properly cleaned had still not been replaced;

·         The electrical safety certificate had still not been produced;

·         The flaking paint had not been dealt with.

This visit took place a week after the children had gone back to school and food was still being served out of the kitchen.

What is apparent is that most of these issues are structural and denote a total lack of investment in this school kitchen. Barnet are always ready to claim credit for the excellent standards in schools but this indicates they have completely overlooked essential safety in the kitchen of this school. 

We would also note that two there are two other schools in the Borough that achieved inadequate food hygiene ratings, Deansbrook Junior School in Hale Drive which scored just one point (Major improvement necessary) and Underhill Infants School  which scored two points (Improvement necessary).

You can read the food hygiene ratings for all Barnet schools here:

Serious questions about the situation at Holly Park must be addressed.

1. Have the problems now been completely resolved and if not, why not?

2.Were parents fully informed of these problems?

If not, why not? Surely they had a right to know -especially those parents whose children have school dinners?

3.Were the governors of the school, including Cllr Brian Salinger made aware of this report?

If not, why not, and if they were, did they not think parents had a right to be informed of the situation?

4.Why did Barnet Council allow a kitchen in such a poor state of repair continue to operate, and why, when they were given a zero rating, did they fail to remedy so many of the contraventions within the timescale set by the Environmental Health Officer?

5.Were there any conflicts of interest between Re, the council’s contractor  who now operates Environmental Health, and the Council over the role of the Environmental Health Officer, given that  the Officer now has two employers –Capita, before they enter and after they leave the premises, and the Council, whilst they carry out the inspection?

In the best interests of all families with children at Barnet’s schools, we ask Barnet Council to respond in full to the concerns raised here, as soon as possible, so as to reassure residents that the privatisation of council services and management of statutory roles in the One Barnet programme is not placing children or any other residents at risk.

*Updated Tuesday:

At last, at least one of the local papers has followed up this story - see the Barnet Press . The article quotes Tory councillor Brian Salinger, who is a governor of the school:

I think the school will put its hands up and say ‘we should have done more.’ I am not going to make excuses for anybody, but it has now all been put right.”

He claims that no child was put in danger, and that everything is now fine. 

Is it?

First of all clearly children were in danger, and may still be - and in the period between the original report and the second one which found requirements still ignored, the kitchen would appear to have continued to operate. 

He states that the problems were addressed by a 'high level clean', and rather oddly states:

'I have not been aware of any problems with food hygiene or food poisoning'.

Where is the evidence that the failings in the reports have been addressed? What about the serious electrical issues? Have parents been kept informed of the problem? Are there any children at the school whose health conditions might be compromised by such failures in basic hygiene, and were their families informed?

Apart from the hygiene failings, it is clear there needs to be an urgent appraisal of the building's structural safety.

In the meanwhile, if your child is a pupil at this school, Mrs Angry suggests you contact the governors - and the council - and demand some answers about this matter, pretty damn quick. 

Update Wednesday:

The local Times has now followed up this story with comments from a parent at Holly Park School which confirm that the school did not inform anyone about the findings of the report:

“This is the first I’ve heard of it. It’s disgusting – appalling. The school owes it to the parents to inform them and give them the option to switch to packed lunches.

Had I known the hygiene levels were so poor, I would have pulled my children out of school dinners immediately. It is horrific – I’m really quite angry about it.”

(Normally Mrs Angry would provide a link to the Times article,  but this time really can't be bothered, as the paper has claimed the credit for breaking this story, which was in fact originally given to them by blogger Mr Reasonable, but not published, hence our own joint post).


Morris Hickey said...

Capita - one of Blair's favourite companies. 'Nuff said!

Kate Belgrave said...

That is appalling

Mrs Angry said...

Yep. And only a warning of what is to come, I suspect. Lack of investment - in schools in Labour areas - and lack of enforcement.

Anonymous said...

Mrs A. The window, to which the sashes cannot be shut and possibly appears bowed due to the weight of the roof is often a sign that the window is acting as a lintel. In other words if there there is no lintel fitted, and the window is indeed holding up the roof, then this contravenes current Building Regs unless the window has been specifically constructed to be structuraly supporting the roof, which is possible, but highly unlikely.

Judging from the photo the building looks to be early 1900's (pre current regs) when it was often common practice to fit windows literally as the brickwork went up. This meant the windows were actually built in, rather than fitted after all the brickwork is complete and with bespoke lintels as happens today.

In any event, and especially considering recent events at Liberton High School where 12 year old Keane Wallis Bennett died when a wall collapsed and landed on top of her, a Structural Engineers report should be immediately commissioned. Most preferably for the entire building, and of course for any other buildings so constructed, of which I am sure there are many.

Mrs Angry said...

Anon 19.37: thank you for your comment. The reason why we decided to publish this joint post - and it should be said a local paper failed to do so - is because we feel there is a duty to bring this into the public domain but more importantly because of the apparent immediate risk to children's health and safety, and Liberton was uppermost in our consideration, as well as the hygiene risks.

We need some statement and an assurance from the council that if it has not already done so, urgent safety checks are made in all similar school structures, as well as rigorous enforcement of hygiene regulations.

Mrs Angry said...

Just to add that I have now written to the Chief Executive to ask him for an assurance that these matters will be urgently investigated.

Anonymous said...

Surely the school's buildings insurance is invalidated if an accident happens after they have been forewarned of a danger?

Anonymous said...

Sorry meant to add: and public liability insurance. In which case it would fall to the council to pay compensation. Or Capita? No, of course not, silly me.

Mrs Angry said...

Good point, anonymous: insurance or not, an accident could have occurred, but also potentially an illness in a child, such as e-coli, which can have devastating consequences, which is why food hygiene is clearly of utmost importance in school kitchens.

Anonymous said...

Normally, the school would be covered even for awful things like compensation for deaths under its insurance. But any insurance company would immediately pass the liability back on this one because of warnings given before events and not acted on.

It's serious since it takes much less bacteria to make a child ill than an adult because it is smaller.

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, and any child with underlying health problems would be even more susceptible, and I understand there may well be children in that category at the school.

I think it is utterly shocking to hear that parents were not informed of the reports' findings, and the apparent complacency of the governors is mystifying.

In my experience the activities of school governing boards are often secretive and not accountable to parents. At one of the schools attended by one of my children it took several attempts to find out the name of the Chair of governors, and I never did obtain a list of the rest of them.

Anonymous said...

Letter received from school today (29th April) to all parents saying the school now received a 4/5 score. I was not informed about this until I Googled it today. Poor, very poor